I realize there are people who read GetReligion who believe that Peggy Noonan is on the payroll of the White House -- pick a GOP White House, any GOP White House -- and that she is simply a fax machine for NeoCon talking points. You're out there. OK, so that makes her Wall Street Journal column today even more interesting and perhaps newsworthy -- as part of this breaking-up process of religious and cultural conservatives starting to think about all of the candles they have burned in front of George W. Bush portraits in recent years.
This column contains one paragraph that absolutely burns.
The key paragraph is almost a throwaway, an unplanned uppercut in a column that is about another topic altogether. Sit down and read this section (the italics are in the original) about how ordinary Americans are responding to the, yes, civil war in Iraq:
Much has been strained. We were all concussed by 9/11 -- we reeled -- and came down where we came down. For the administration, extreme events prompted radical thinking. American exceptionalism was yesterday. They would be universalists, their operating style at once dreamy and aggressive: All men want the same thing, and we're giving it to them whether they want it or not. Now the dreamers hope to be saved by men -- James Baker, Vernon Jordan -- they once dismissed as cynics. And the two truest statements on Iraq are, still, Colin Powell's "You break it, you own it" and Pat Buchanan's "A constitution doesn't make a country, a country makes a constitution." Iraq has a constitution but not a country.
What does this have to do with a weblog that focuses on mainstream coverage of religion?
This Noonan punchline is a flashback to her controversial column after the second W inaugural address, the one in which the president came close to promising a new foreign-policy heaven and a new foreign-policy earth with the United States playing the role of God the Father. What was interesting, Noonan suggested, was that this language seemed to be linked to a kind of liberal idealism -- universalism, even -- rather than a truly conservative vision of a sinful, fallen world in which humans struggle to work for the good, knowing that perfection is not an option.
Thus, Noonan wrote:
The president's speech seemed rather heavenish. It was a God-drenched speech. This president, who has been accused of giving too much attention to religious imagery and religious thought, has not let the criticism enter him. God was invoked relentlessly. "The Author of Liberty." "God moves and chooses as He wills. We have confidence because freedom is the permanent hope of mankind ... the longing of the soul."
... Ending tyranny in the world? Well that's an ambition, and if you're going to have an ambition it might as well be a big one. But this declaration, which is not wrong by any means, seemed to me to land somewhere between dreamy and disturbing. Tyranny is a very bad thing and quite wicked, but one doesn't expect we're going to eradicate it any time soon. Again, this is not heaven, it's earth.
To put this in theological terms, Noonan wants to know if this born-again president takes the Fall seriously enough. Is his faith more along the lines of an old liberalism that assumed the world was getting better and better and better, as opposed to a rock-ribbed conservatism that has a dark view of sin and man?
Noonan has lots of evangelical readers, and I wonder if many of them are beginning to realize what she is saying. Perhaps George W. Bush really is a United Methodist.